About a hundred people were waiting in an orderly queue in front of al-Imam Ali Elementary School in Dokki to cast their vote in the referendum on the constitutional amendments Saturday. Some came with their entire families, with mothers, husbands and the occasional stroller, while others stood alone.
A motley crowd formed a line that stretched 200 meters: A bearded man reading a pocket Kuran was waiting in line behind a group of chatty women dressed in western clothes; men wearing khaki-colored galabeyas and white turbans moved with the line quietly, flanked by traditionally dressed women.
But despite their various dress, ages and social backgrounds, many shared the experience of being first-time voters.
“I am so proud today, proud to be Egyptian and exhilarated that my voice will be heard at last,” first-time voter Nadia al-Gabali told Al-Masry Al-Youm, her family encircling her and nodding in consent.
Iman al-Gabali, one of her relatives who is a quality manager at the Sofitel Gezira hotel, explained why she was waiting in line to vote: “I am participating in the future of my country, and by saying “no” to these amendments I am making the following statement: we went through this revolution to build a new Egypt, and for that we need a new constitution.”
A few meters down the line, a woman wearing a dark abaya is quietly waiting to cast her vote.
“I am so proud of being able to participate in this democratic process, and to be heard,” said stay at home mom Leila Mansour, who is also voting for the first time.
She is also going to vote against the proposed constitutional amendments, which, according to her, will change too little in the way the country is run. “I feel dignified to be here today, it is a beautiful day, and I am very hopeful for the future of my country.”
Adel Atteya is a 67-year-old businessman, but despite his age, he too is casting his first ballot. “’No’ is what I am going to vote today,” he said with a serious air, “because the new constitution Egypt needs has to be written by a group of 50 people, with youngsters from the 25th of January movement and members of various political parties.”
Less inclined than other first-time voters to show his excitement, he said it is important that the parliamentary elections not take place too soon. “We should wait a year, even a year and a half if we want all parties to be ready and enter the elections on an equal footing.”
Others, like Khalid Mohamed who works in the tourism industry, are less willing to disclose their votes, hoping to avoid influencing the course of the referendum.
“You see, I don’t want the media to start announcing any expectations; I want people to vote according to their true beliefs,” he said.
Mohamed, who is voting for the first time, voices his concerns about the future of the nation, saying “People in this country have never been acquainted with democracy, and I feel that we will need 15 years before it really settles down and stabilizes the country.”
About half a kilometer away, the Dokki Agriculture Museum has been turned into a polling station for the day. Here, the crowd is noticeably thicker and two distinct lines have been created for men and women.
Nachwa Mohamed Kamal has never stepped into a polling station before. “For the first time in my life, I am giving my opinion freely,” she said, smiling frankly but refusing to disclose her vote. “Look around you, people are queuing in peace, are entering and leaving the polling station with calm…this is a great leap forward for us as a people.”
Israa Abu Bakr, a 22-year-old physiotherapist, also wishes to keep her vote a secret “for the security of the voting process,” she says.
“I don’t want people to figure out which vote, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, will prevail today because it might cause some problems. But what I can say without restraint is that today, I feel free and I feel proud to give my opinion for the future of Egypt.”